All aboard the crazy train

We all know what it’s like to be stuck in a rut. And as much as you might not think being in one of the most influential thrash metal bands ever is work (and let’s be honest, everyone reading this review would kick their boss in the balls and be on the tour bus faster than you could say “see ya later suckers” if you were offered the chance to do the damn job), nonetheless after getting on for three decades it is time to take stock.

So it was that for album 16, the main man behind Annihilator since 1989, Jeff Waters, decided to change things up. Drafting in his bass player Rich Hinks to write the music and co-produce “For The Demented” was a big step, but nonetheless one Waters thought he had to make.

It is a move that has paid off handsomely too, given that Waters  – who sounds invigorated – admits he went back to basics for this, and that really comes through on the opening “Twisted Lobotomy”.

Firstly it has probably the most thrash title in ages, secondly it is quite simply a lesson in old school thrash. Razor sharp lead guitars, lyrics that are spat out rather than sung and machine gun riffing. As a statement of intent there is none finer.

It is no fluke either. “One To Kill” treads much the same path and it is a pleasure to hear one of the absolute great bands of the genre sounding this fresh.

But this is Annihilator and pure thrash has never really been their shtick. The first clue that this is an album with a lot more to do than put on its hi-tops and rehash the glory days, comes with the title track. An intro that lurks ominously in the shadows, like some mugger that fancies your wallet and then kicks the shit out of you just for grins. Then there is a touch of discordant, even psychedelic stuff before the end.

As the title suggests this is an album with something of a concept. In Waters’ words: “I placed a theme on the record: the human mind and all of its glory, complexity, diversity, weaknesses and insanity”. That last word is never better represented than on “Pieces Of You” a genuinely unhinged ballad that brings to mind Alice Cooper at his most calmly malevolent.

In looking for the thrash-meets-melody of those early albums, Waters and Hinks tap into some classic licks. “The Demon You Know” has elements of “Peace Sells” era Megadeth, but the ambition to stretch the boundaries which has always been at the core of the band is shown with the prog infused “Phantom Asylum” – which also serves as a timely reminder as to just how good a guitar player Jeff Waters is.

“Altering The Alter” is awash with slashing guitars, but “The Way” is as different again. A punky, hard rock boogie, it is a left turn, but fun nonetheless. “Dark” on the other hand is anything but “fun” instead opting for something absolutely unsettling.

Things finish, really as they began. With “Not All There” being a thrash rumination on mental illness, but the music matches the lyrics – as so often it does on this record – perfectly.

Time will tell whether “For The Demented” is as seminal as “Alice In Hell” or sells as many as “Never, Neverland”. What is clear, however, is that in reaching back to the vibe of those albums, Annihilator haven’t sounded as fresh for a very long time.

Rating 8/10

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